Can Virtual Reality (VR) help soldiers with PTSD?

Virtual Reality (VR) is a very interesting technology nowadays. It has been extremely expensive to the public, due to the fact that it has been used for many years for military purposes (e.g.: as a simulator of flights). These days, VR is also used for videogame experiences, and surprisingly it is now being used clinically in order to treat mental disorders like Post-Trauma Stress Disorder (we are going to call it PTSD from now on).

Before answering the question of how VR could help PTSD patients, we first must explain what this disease is. And we must commence by saying that PTSD makes living more difficult. Life is amazing and beautiful, but it is not free of fears and anxieties. If we want to be happy, it is completely necessary for us to be able to endure odds and struggle against hardships. Once we overcome those situations, we get stronger. Because that is the way it is – every time we surrender to our fears, mankind can gain the ability of standing up again and learn. However, when we don’t have enough mental strength, difficult situations of our lives will generate traumas in our mind.

There are people out there that they suffer so much that they finally give up, and they cannot find enough strength in order to move forward. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is indeed a terrifying disease that makes people believe that it is always better to run of traumas. And we think it is not an option.

The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (we are going to call it PTSD from now on) is a mental health condition that appears when a person witnesses (or experiences) a terrifying event. It can create terrible scars in the person’s mind, as flashbacks of those terrible experiences can cause severe anxieties in the individual.

It is very common for those patients to have intrusive memories; avoidance of what originated their traumas; negative changes in their mood and variations and in their physical and emotional reactions towards other people.

Avoidance of their traumas is when the patient chooses to not face the trauma that is damaging him and is blocking him of going forward with his life. A rape survivor could avoid going out on dates for fear that she will be attacked again. And veterans suffer of avoidance in the majority of cases, because they are not able to fully re-adapt themselves to society again due to the horrible murder experiences they witnessed during war.

What truly matters is that if not treated, the person’s trauma could interfere with his quality of life. This is why PTSD can block a person’s mind and force him to live a life or fear. Not learning of those experiences by avoiding them can be even worse, because sometimes is better to face the situation and learn from it. This is the way in which they can overcome their anxieties.

One method that can be used in order to treat PTSD is the Exposure Therapy. Its goal is to help reducing a person’s fear and anxiety, or even being able to eliminate it in order to improve his quality of

life. In order to be effective, the person must confront a situation that is close to its worst fears. And this is when VR shows its true potential against this avoidance of traumas.

A new therapy for PTSD is being applied in order to combat those mental problems: the VRET (Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy). It consists in make veterans of war experience 3D graphics in which they have to simulate scenarios in which they must take action against several threats in a fictional war scenario. VRET allows psychiatrists to treat PTSD in an innovative and effective way.

The main benefit of VR in those studies is that VRET allows traumatized people to put themselves into a context in which they must confront their fears, eliminating the possibility of avoiding their traumas again. VR war simulators can modify a lot of aspects of the fictional scenario, like the realism of sounds of the environment, degree of explosions, and time of the day – the more aspects that could be simulated the better, because VR is never going to simulate the exact situation of what happened to the patient. But fortunately, it doesn’t need to.

Exposure therapy targets behaviors that people avoid in response to thoughts, memories or situations that provoke anxiety or fear on them. Thanks to VRET, soldiers are going to receive many stimuli in the simulation and it is going to allow to the patients to face in a fictional situation in order to improve their real lives. Using VRET on veterans of war of Vietnam and Afghanistan, they could overcome their fears to the point that many of them experienced a reduction in their TSD symptoms.

What is really disappointing is that VRET is a very expensive technology. It needs to be more widely available in clinics, but right now it is not. What we know for now is that VRET is very effective way to reduce PTSD symptoms, and we hope it could get more available for the people who need it in the future. The traumas of the mind are indeed a dark and scary place, but if we face our terrors, we are going to be able to cure diseases like PTSD someday. And VR is giving us a great opportunity this time.

How gaming can improve our brain?

Gaming has been one of the most popular hobbies that people have had during the past 30 years. However, a great sector of people hated videogames – and they have been accusing this hobby as activities that are very dangerous for the next generation of children. Videogames were always polemic because of the violence they often show, or the addiction they can cause of some people. Do videogames corrupt the way children act? Or even so, do videogames make children less smart? We are not going to answer those questions, but we will show to the reader that gaming has positive effects in people when they are properly used.

Through the years, videogame industry has been changing, and lot researchers have been changing their perceptions about videogames – to the point they are very conscious about how videogames can positively improve cognitive abilities of a lot of people. 

The question of our doubts is: can gaming improve our cognitive abilities? And the answer is yes. Absolutely.

But remember: too much of anything is bad! Eating broccoli to excess can be toxic for your body, if you drink so much water you could get sick, and one of the most common mistakes of people is that generally, they think videogames can be addictive and therefore they are a negative influence for children. And if you consider yourself a gamer, you should ask yourself: do I play videogames so much? Am I fulfilling the rest of the activities that are supposed to be done by me? Because remember, if you play videogames to excess it could be turned into an addiction – a real big problem for you. Too much of everything is bad.

First of all, we are going to start by a very interesting study in which researchers discovered that gaming improve cognitive functions in people.  After playing videogames by using specific routines, results were more than interesting in diverse areas of cognition. 

The first study is related to Super Mario 64, one of Shigeru Miyamoto’s masterpiece games of all time. Researchers took groups of people and put them the routine of playing this game for 30 minutes, every day for two months.

At the end of the study, they discovered that the participants of the research improved their memory because they could retain important information in their brain about the game; they improved their motor skills because they gained mastery over the N64 gamepad – allowing them to fully adapt themselves to the game’s mechanics and respond to Mario’s movement at the same time; and participants of the research also improved their strategic planning in real life, because when they did not have any idea of how could they overcome a new challenge in the game, they had to create new strategies in order to create possibilities to overcome the problems that the game introduced to them in every level of the game.

Those who did not participate in the investigation did not increase any of those abilities, and their mental and motor skills, together with their motor skills were in their average all time. So this is a clear evidence of how a videogame can improve your brain quite a lot.

A lot of people are still thinking that action games only teach violence to children, and in reality, action games can help too. 

According to researchers, if you play action games from 5 to 10 hours per week, you will realize about important changes in your brain. 

One of the abilities action/shooter games can increase is the capacity of being able to react quicker to stimulus. As you have to encounter a lot of targets in a reduced period of time, if you want to survive in action games, you must be quick and be able to perceive enemy attacks as fast as possible. Your senses are going to be sharper as you are going to evade problematic situations in less time than the average.

Gaming can also improve your sight senses, increasing the amount of targets you can catch with your eyes – and even being able to improve your attention to details. In some action games like Halo, you have to be careful as there are enemies that explode and harm you if they are shot in front of you. Not all enemies explode; in fact the ones with that ability look different. You must pay attention to them, identify them from the rest in the moment, and eliminate the threat when they are far from your position. Your brain is actually more efficient in areas associated with attention, and this is why action games help a lot in these cognitive areas.

Education and videogames can also coexist. As you should know, a lot of videogames unconsciously help you to read faster and accurately, because they have a lot of texts in them. People who play graphic novels are said to improve their eyesight because of this. 

Gamers can even be able to detect differences in contrast – one of the most important color concepts that decay when you get older. Also, your eyes can track more objects at the same time when you are gaming – the average of objects we can track is between 3 to 4 and gamers can track from 6 to 7. Finally, it has been shown that a videogame player brain ages slower than the majority by approximately 7 years.

As you can see, there are a lot of cognitive abilities you can improve when you play videogames. Your brain is going to be good unless you do not play enough, so what are you waiting for? Take your favorite games and enjoy them. But remember: do not games to excess, as it can affect you and your brain negatively if you do not take on other tasks of your daily life.